COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - The family of Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Eric Greitens has been subjected to "serious threats" in the days since he released a violent campaign video in which he declares he's "hunting" RINOs, or Republicans in Name Only, the lawyer for his ex-wife said in court Thursday.
Attorney Helen Wade said Sheena Greitens has received written threats, noting her email address is a public record because she's an employee at a public university.
After the gun-toting campaign video was released, "she's received some serious threats," Wade said.
"She's scared," Wade added during a hearing in the former couple's child custody case. She said the video "has created a situation where others may perceive it as a call to arms."
The hearing was part of the case to decide whether custody of the couple's two sons should be overseen by a court in Missouri or in Texas, where Sheena Greitens and the boys now live. In a March affidavit as part of the case, Sheena Greitens accused her ex-husband of verbal and physical abuse.
Greitens, who resigned as Missouri governor in June 2018 after an extramarital affair spawned a criminal charge in St. Louis, has repeatedly called the abuse allegations lies. He accused Sheena Greitens of collaborating with people he considers RINOs - Republicans in Name Only - such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and longtime GOP operative Karl Rove, in an effort to sabotage his Senate campaign.
The 38-second campaign ad that dropped Monday shows Eric Greitens brandishing a shotgun. An armed tactical team breaks into a home and throws what appear to be flash-bang grenades. Greitens enters through the smoke and says: "Join the MAGA crew. Get a RINO hunting permit. There's no bagging limit, no tagging limit and it doesn't expire until we save our country."
Eric Greitens said the ad was meant to be humorous and not taken literally. He was not at the hearing.
"I'm disappointed Eric isn't here today because we were hoping that we would be able to get him to make a statement clearly denouncing the use of any sort of violence against my client," Wade said.
Eric Greitens' attorney, Gary Stamper, said in court "it's disingenuous to suggest" that Greitens "would want harm to befall her." But Stamper said he will talk to him about making a statement denouncing any threats of violence against Sheena Greitens and his children.
Wade said the threats should be taken seriously and referred in court to written threats the family had received. She did not specify how the threats came, whether by email, social media or other means.
"We live in a country where this kind of rhetoric has resulted in violence," she said. "It's in writing, `Wouldn't it be awful if someone hunted down and killed Eric Greitens and his entire family. Golly that would be terrible.′ That's one of them. The other one is so horrible I can't read it aloud in court."
Eric Greitens is among 21 Republicans running for the Senate seat being vacated by incumbent Roy Blunt's retirement. Most polling has shown Greitens at or near the top of the field, though in close competition with U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler and Attorney General Eric Schmitt.
Some GOP leaders fear that if Greitens wins the Aug. 2 primary, he could lose in November. With the Senate evenly divided, the GOP can't afford to lose what would otherwise be a safe seat.
Greitens is a former Navy SEAL officer and Rhodes Scholar who was largely unknown in politics before he was elected governor in 2016. With abundant charisma, good looks and his military background, Greitens was seen by many as a future presidential contender. He didn't hide his ambition, reserving the website EricGreitensForPresident.com.
His star seemed to fade as fast as it rose. In January 2018, he admitted to a 2015 extramarital affair with his St. Louis hairdresser and a month later, he was indicted on an invasion-of-privacy charge that accused of taking a compromising photo of the woman.
In short order, a Missouri House committee began investigating campaign finance issues, and Greitens faced a second felony charge in St. Louis related to campaign finances. Both charges were eventually dropped. Under the risk of the charges being refiled, and still facing possible impeachment, Greitens resigned in June 2018. Eric and Sheena Greitens divorced in 2020.
In the March affidavit, Sheena Greitens said her ex-husband demonstrated such "unstable and coercive behavior" as his political career appeared to be collapsing in 2018 that steps were taken to limit his access to firearms.
At one point, she said, Eric Greitens purchased a gun but refused to tell her where it was. He also threatened to kill himself "unless I provided specific public political support," she wrote. The behavior was so alarming, she wrote, that on three separate occasions in February, April and May 2018, "multiple people other than myself were worried enough to intervene to limit Eric's access to firearms."
The latest campaign ad sparked a pushback on some social media cites. Facebook removed the video "for violating our policies prohibiting violence and incitement." Twitter said Greitens' post violated its rules about abusive behavior but said it was leaving it up because it was in the "public's interest" for the tweet to be viewable. The company's move prevented the post from being shared any further.
___ Salter reported from O'Fallon, Missouri.